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How to Import Historical Transactions

Newcomers to YNAB may wonder how to import a lot of historical data.  This article will explain how to do that, but there are reasons why we don’t recommend it.

  • It could take you awhile, depending on how much history you import.  Keep in mind every transaction will need to be categorized.
  • If you import a lot of history (maybe a year of transactions) you may not remember what some of those charges were for. In that case, you can definitely make a best guess, but it won’t be a completely accurate picture of your spending.
  • Looking at history means looking backwards.  YNAB recommends you start today with what you have and make a plan for moving forward.

That said, some people want transaction history for tax purposes or to get a picture of spending trends. Those are valid reasons to want your history in YNAB, so let’s take a look at how to do it.

In this example, it’s mid-February and you’ve decided you want to import your history starting January 1st. You want to have a record of the entire year for tax purposes, and to get a picture of your past spending so you can budget more effectively moving forward.

Step 1:  Create the account in YNAB with a starting date of January 1st.  This is the critical part - you need to get the starting balance correct.  The best way to do this is to enter the starting balance as of December 31st - the day before the import date.  This will ensure that you end up with the correct current balance after the import.

 

Step 2:  Download a file from your bank that contains transactions from January 1st forward.
Most banks allow you to choose a date range when downloading. Check with your bank if you aren’t sure. YNAB can import the following formats: QFX, OFX, QIF and, as a last resort, CSV files. Please be sure to review our CSV guide if that is the only format you can get your transactions in.

If wish you to import transactions from other financial software, export the data from that program into one of the file types listed above.  Then you'll be able to import the data.

Step 3: Import the downloaded bank file.

At this point the balance on the account in YNAB should match your current bank balance.

Step 4:  Approve all transactions.  Select all transactions by clicking the tick box at the top of the register to the left of the date field.  Then go to edit transactions, or right-click (CTRL-click on a Mac) on any selected transaction, and choose APPROVE.

Step 5:  You’ll now be prompted to categorize all transactions.  Click “show” at the top of the register to filter a search for transactions that need a category.  Once you categorize they’ll be removed from the search filter and this makes it easy to see what you have left to do.

This is where it could get tedious.  Here are ways to make it go quicker:

1. Sort by inflow by clicking on the header of the inflow column, then select all inflows.  Right click on a selected inflow and go to Categorize  As > Income > Available This Month.

2. Sort by Payee and you can start bulk categorizing.  For example, find your grocery store in the list and select all those transactions.  Then right click on one of them and go to Categorize As > Everyday Expenses > Groceries.

3.  Don't agonize over how to categorize the transactions.  In all likelihood there will be some transactions you are not sure of.  Just assign them to the most logical category. Alternatively, you can create a miscellaneous category where you can assign transactions you're not sure of. As you track spending moving forward, category assignment will be more accurate.

Step 6:  Clean up the budget.  When you move to the budget screen, you’ll see that you are now over budget and you’ll see lots of overspending in each category. That’s because YNAB expects you to budget first, and then spend.  In this case, we’ve entered all the spending, but haven’t budgeted yet.

However, this can be fixed easily.  Go to the lightning bolt at the top of the first month - January in our example.  Choose “balance to zero” from the options.

Do this again in each month where there is data.

Now the overspending and overbudgeting should be gone. You should be left with a positive balance in the “available to budget” number that matches your bank balance.  That’s what you have to work with moving forward.

You can go to reports and view spending by category or payee for more information.